Red Cross and
Red Crescent Museum celebrates its 10th anniversary
Despite grappling with financial problems and the lack of
a clear profile, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent
Museum can pride itself on its success.
Money, of course, is needed everywhere. This explains why
the Swiss government drastically reduced its subsidy to the
Museum, cutting it by almost one million Swiss francs between
the periods 1994-1997 and 1998-2001. Donations have fallen
by half since 1995 when they raised over 600,000 francs. This
drop is not due to a lack of initiative. Helped by the founder,
Laurent Marti, and the President of the Foundation Board,
Jean-Pierre Hocké, the former director Didier Helg
succeeded, at the end of the 1980s, in redressing a deficit
of more than one and a half million francs.
The promotion booklet entitled Ten years: Past achievements,
future prospects contains the following remark: “Volunteers
have made possible savings on staff costs of around 400,000
Swiss francs a year, or four million Swiss francs over 10
years”. This observation reveals how tight the budget
is. Knowing this, it is easier to understand why the celebration
of the 10th anniversary, on 22 October, will be a more modest
affair than originally planned. A gala will be held at the
Théâtre des Forces Motrices in Geneva, featuring
musicians who have performed in the 589 summer concerts held
at the Museum since 1990.
A difficult task
The friends of the Museum, its 50 volunteers and 10 employees,
still regret the departure of Didier Helg in 1996, followed
by that of the curator, Jean-Pierre Gaume. And since misfortunes
always come in threes, the director who replaced Mr Helg —
Christine Muller — handed in her notice after an all
too brief stay. Appointed earlier this year, her successor
Roger Mayou declares : “It would be unwise to build
castles in the air. For the moment, I’m learning.”
Learning in order to assume the considerable responsibilities
which come with the job — namely, management, organizing
various activities, fundraising, becoming familiar with the
“house culture” and diplomacy.
Nevertheless, a miracle has occurred over the last few years.
Buses parked outside day after day bring an average of 80,000
visitors per year — a figure that compares favourably
with other museums. And the numbers have not diminished. Certain
exhibitions attracted considerable media and public interest.
To mention but the most recent: “Sarajevo”, “Mandela:
A Life”, and another entitled “From Gun to Stretcher”
were all undeniable successes.
Taking stock of the situation, Laurent Marti is satisfied.
“Everyone agrees that the Museum is a must. It has achieved
its goal, both from the architectural and museological point
of view. It is a symbol. To such an extent that at a time
when Switzerland is under attack from the outside, the government
should grant greater aid to the Museum. This would be a way
of reminding other countries that, even if Switzerland has
committed errors, it has nevertheless founded the only worldwide
humanitarian movement: the Red Cross and Red Crescent.”
This optimism should not, however, mask the questions concerning
the Museum’s identity. A “clear line” remains
to be defined, and financial aid alone cannot solve the problem.
In particular, a decision must be taken on the Museum’s
mission and the endless hedging between the two contradictory
although equally legitimate identities must be stopped: on
the one hand, that of an educational and propagandist showcase
for the Movement, and on the other, that of a museological
and scientific study of humanitarian action.
Serge Bimpage is a journalist with La Tribune de Genève.